In the wake of two fantastic races at Donington that saw five different riders and four different manufacturers vying for the win right down to the wire, the eni FIM Superbike World Championship is now heading towards the Utah high plains for the sixth of the 14 rounds in this year’s calendar. As is tradition, the two races will be held on Monday 28th May, Memorial Day, in honour of the US Armed Forces, so first qualifying will take place on Saturday.
The production-based racing series arrives at Miller Motorsports Park, the safest and most modern circuit in north America. The facility was inaugurated in 2008 and is located around 40 kms from the centre of Salt Lake City, the capital of the state of Utah, not far away from the legendary Bonneville Salt Flats, the scene for the world land-speed record attempts made every year.
World Superbike has been the main event of the year in this area of the USA since its very first edition in 2008. The track measures 4.907 kms and on the long 1.1 km pit straight Superbike machines come close to 320 km/h (200 mph). In fact, the Miller circuit is expecting the 200 mph mark to be exceeded this time around as it has set up a ‘Quest for 200’ ticket prize draw competition for the general public. Judging by the astonishing top speed of 339.5 km/h reached on the long Monza straights by Tom Sykes on a Kawasaki, this particular record could quite easily be broken.
The US Round is always one of the most fascinating because Superbike was born and developed in the United States half-way through the 1970s, before gaining world championship recognition in 1988. The race actually appears to bring good luck all round as for the past three seasons the winners at Miller Motorsports Park have all gone on to become world champions that year.
The previous round in the UK did not change things at the top that much as Max Biaggi (Aprilia Racing), who has led the table since the opening race, the first and only one won by the former world champion this year, continues to lead. Biaggi won here two years ago on his way towards taking his 2010 world title.
Biaggi is the man in the cross-hairs of Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team), who as well as claiming four Tissot-Superpole wins out of five, dominated at Monza and the 26 year-old Brit is now just five points behind the leader. Each race of the 18 remaining (9 rounds) assigns 25 points to the winner so there is still much to play for.
A win at Donington for Jonathan Rea also put the Honda World Superbike Team rider back on track and the young man from Northern Ireland now has two wins to his name this year and is in third place, 20.5 points off the top slot. Miller could be a crossroads for Althea Racing’s title hopes as the 39 year-old from Spain, Carlos Checa, has always made the difference here, dominating both on a four-cylinder Honda (2008) and a twin-cylinder Ducati (2011). Checa, who has been on pole three times in 2008, 2010 and 2011, will again be going for the big win to make up the 23 points separating him from Biaggi.
Morale in the BMW Motorrad team is at an all-time high following Marco Melandri’s first historic win for the German manufacturer on the British circuit. The Italian is 31 points down on Biaggi, and is followed in turn by his team-mate Leon Haslam, their points haul and positions in the table seriously affected by the double elimination at the final hairpin at Donington.
Miller is also a happy hunting-ground for Sylvain Guintoli (Team Effenbert Liberty Racing Ducati) who scored his first Superbike podium here twelve months ago. The Frenchman then broke the winners’ ice two rounds back at Assen.
The FIXI Crescent Suzuki team has managed to recover the services of top draw rider John Hopkins in record time, the ever-popular American missing Donington due to the effects of his high-side at Monza. The team is also hoping a lot from Leon Camier, whose best results at Miller are two second places.
The uncertainty surrounding the eventual outcome of this year’s World Superbike races is sure to continue in the USA. It is worth mentioning that in the nine races held so far this season, there have been six different winners (Biaggi, Checa, Rea, Guintoli, Sykes and Melandri) on five different makes of bike: Aprilia, BMW, Ducati, Honda and Kawasaki. Only Suzuki is yet to make the grade but the Crescent-Yoshimura combination are working hard to close the gap.
Points (after 5 of 14 rounds): 1. Biaggi 128.5; 2. Sykes 123.5; 3. Rea 108; 4. Checa 105.5; 5. Melandri 97.5; 6. Haslam 89; 7. Guintoli 85; 8. Laverty 65; 9. Giugliano 50; 10. Smrz 44.5; etc. Manufacturers: 1. Ducati 161.5; 2. Aprilia 139; 3. BMW 131; 4. Kawasaki 129.5; 5. Honda 112; 6. Suzuki 40.5.